Tokyo startup accelerator Open Network Lab, led by MIT Media Lab’s director Joi Ito, held its demo day event today. We had a chance to check out a wide range of startups, not only from this latest batch, but also from the program’s previous five batches. Here’s a quick overview below.
From the sixth batch
1. Zenclerk ¶
We can’t disclose much about their business because they’re in stealth mode, expected to launch next month. But you can infer what they’re working on from their website, as well as this short introductory video (in Japanese). They did not pitch at the event.
2. Papelook / Pape.mu girls ¶
Pitched by: Ichiro Ozawa
As some of our readers may remember that we previously featured Papelook, a photo collage/cropping app that allows users to share your fashion snapshots with others. It has now passed 5 million downloads since its initial launch back in March of 2012, growing at the impressive rate of 500,000 downloads a month. Almost 50% of all Japanese female smartphone users aged from 15 to 29 are using the app.
In terms of differentiation from competing photo apps like Decopic and Snapeee, Papelook makes it easier to sort good pictures from bad ones, which should keep your camera roll from being filled with unnecessary pictures.
Papelook alone does not make much money, but it transfers users to Pape.mu girls, their cash cow. Pape.mu girls is a fashion app that presents a variety of pictures and updates curated from models’ blogs or fashion brands. The app has 250,000 downloads so far, with 500,000 active users generating six million page views a month. What’s most impressive is the retention time of their users, logging an astounding 50 minutes per visit on average.
In this way, the photo collage app brings users on board, which then creates opportunities for brands to promote products with the fashion app. The startup has already managed to partner with Fashionwalker.com, one of Japan’s largest fashion e-commerce sites. The company is planning business expansion to the US and Mainland China soon.
3. Lang-8 ¶
Pitched by: Yangyang Xi
Some of our readers may remember we featured Yangyang Xi, the founder and CEO of language learning platform Lang-8 in an exclusive interview back in February. The startup launched back in 2007 but since then has been operated by the founder on his own.
Mr. Xi was allowed to participate in the last batch of the acceleration program, hiring a CTO who previously worked at recipe sharing site Cookpad, as well as a designer.
With these fresh faces, Lang-8 has been seeing improvements in its access metrics. The growth rate of paid users is twice what it was a year ago, and revenue has almost doubled compared to a year ago. Business is finally in the black, and they can now begin developing a mobile app.
There’s no CGM-based language learning service using a mobile app, so that they expect to be on top of this space soon.
From previous batches
1. Kiddy ¶
Pitched by: Hiromichi Ando, Compath.me
Back in December of 2011, Companth.me’s co-founder/CEO Hiromichi Ando explained his first app to me in an interview. They’ve been developing a number of apps since then, and the newest one is Kiddy.
Parents typically want to record the growth of their children with pictures, but most would prefer not to share all those snapshots with people on social network platforms who they might not be very close to. To address this problem, Kiddy is a photo sharing app that lets parents to share snapshots of their kids within a family group.
The app was launched last January, and more than 1,000 households have signed up for it so far. Comparing to other photo sharing apps, the Kiddy app is showing good user retention, and the ratio of weekly active users among its entire user base is between 40% to 50%, meaning that about one in every two users makes use of the app at least once a week.
With the potential to generate a great lifetime value, the startup expects to enhance the app as a platform for sharing pictures among family members. They have several monetization ideas including photo printing, or new e-commerce services that propose that you buy something that fits the specific occasion/time of your photo.
2. Voyagin ¶
Pitched by: Masashi Takahashi, Entertainment Kick
This service initially set out to create a travel experience marketplace for tourists visiting Japan. But subsequently they enhanced their ideas to cover five Asian countries: Japan, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. They are focusing on the Asian market because there are about 42 million travelers that hit region each year, with the market estimated to be worth over $4.2 billion.
Voyagin is planning to move its headquarters to Singapore by the end of this year.
3. SpathSchool ¶
Picthed by: Koichiro Sumi
This service is being operated a pair of developer co-founders. They are often asked by other developers to create smartphone apps, and were wondering why developers outsource development work to other developers. Finally they reached a conclusion. System developers in their 20s are familiar with programming languages like Objective-C or Ruby on Rails, but those in their 30s are better versed in conventional technologies like MySQL or Java.
With this insight the startup identified a sort of technology generation gap in the developer community. And it’s a gap that they aim to fill.
They’ve established set up a 20 to 60 hour lecture program for less experienced developers to learn about app development, and a range of related topics. They are also planning to providing some new courses for IT companies to train their employees.
After all the presentations were made, Kaoru Hayashi, the CEO of the accelerator’s parent company Digital Garage, announced that the top prize at the Demo Day event was awarded to the aforementioned Papelook.
The Open Network Lab accelerator is now accepting applications for the next batch of its acceleration program. The deadline is May 31st at noon.